Colossians 1:15-23New International Version (NIV)
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
A Sunday school teacher was attempting to engage her students in a conversation about animals, so she decided to describe something that she assumed every child would be able to recognize with just a few words. She said, “I’m going to describe something, and I want you to raise your hand when you know what it is.” The children were excited to show her what they knew and leaned forward eagerly. “I’m thinking of something that lives in trees and eats nuts …” No hands went up. “It can be gray or brown and it has a long bushy tail …” The children looked around the room at each other, but still no one raised a hand. “It chatters and sometimes it flips its tail when it’s excited …” Finally one little boy shyly raised his hand. The teacher breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Okay, Michael. What do you think it is?” “Well,” said the boy, “it sure sounds like a squirrel, but I guess the answer’s supposed to be Jesus.” (via Grace Rules Weblog)
The answer is always Jesus. I remember driving under a bridge once and someone had sprayed graffiti on the overpass, writing out, “Jesus is always the answer.” I turned to my wife and asked, “What was the question?” She replied, “Jesus.” I stared at her with a puzzled look and she said, “If Jesus is always the answer, then the answer to the question ‘What was the question?’ must still be Jesus.”
If it seems like we talk about Jesus a lot around here, well then I guess we are doing something right, and I make no apologies for spending a few sermons focusing exclusively on Jesus and how he relates to God the Father.
For the last few weeks we have been looking at how God is made known to us. Two weeks ago we looked how God is revealed through creation. It is an imperfect and incomplete revelation, but creation points us toward God like a compass can point us toward our destination. But we also need a map. A map is a description of the lay of the land and it is made by those who have been there and experienced things first hand. Our map is the Bible.
Today we move to the destination. And what do you think the destination is? It’s Jesus, obviously, because Jesus is always the answer!
Let’s start by looking at our passage for this morning. Paul is believed by some to have written this letter from prison to the church in Colossae. It seems as if he has received word that the Colossians have started following Jesus…but they just kind of added him to their pantheon of gods. In chapter 2 Paul criticizes the worship of angels, visions, dwellings, and what he calls “the elemental spirits of the universe” (v. 20). I think that means that they were worshipping the god of the soil, the god of the air, the god of the water, and so on.
Paul offers a counterpoint in verses 15-16, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”
This sounds a lot like what we read in John’s prologue. Jesus himself wasn’t created, in fact, he was a part of the creation process. Through him all things were created, so don’t give credit to some elemental spirits for what Jesus has created! Jesus has made the things that are visible, like the earth, and things that are invisible, like the wind.
Let’s jump down to verse 19, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” So Jesus is the image of the invisible God and God’s fullness dwells in Jesus. This isn’t the only place that we get this idea that Jesus is the full revelation of who God is. Let’s look at a few more as well: (Have congregation members read the list of scriptures at the end of this text.)
What does it mean that Jesus is the exact replica of God, the image of the invisible, the exact radiance, and the word of God made flesh? It means that what we see in Jesus is exactly what God is like. The prophets only had a small glimpse of who God was, but now in Jesus we see God fully. Jesus isn’t just kind of like God. Jesus isn’t similar to God. Jesus is the fullest representation of who God is.
Many of us learned how to do long division at some point in school, or at least we were supposed to learn how to do long division. Long division is challenging, especially for those of us who live in a cellphone world. Who really needs to know how to do that today, come on now!
Let’s look at a couple of simple problems just to refresh our memory. If I give you a math problem like 50 divided by 2, that’s easy, the answer is 25. Two goes into 50 twenty-five times. Now what if we made that first number odd? What is 53 divided by 2? 2 goes evenly into 52 twenty six-times, and into 54 twenty-seven times. But when you divide 53 by 2, you get 26 and a little bit left over. We sometimes write this little bit as .5 or ½. Or, the way I was taught to do this in school was to way that 53 divided by 2 is 26, remainder 1. You can fit 26 twos into 53, but there is still 1 unit that is left and does not fit.
This concept is practical when we try to transfer an object from one container to another. Imagine I have a quart jar filled with water, and I wanted to put that water into a pint jar. If I dump out enough water to fill the pint jar, there is still another 16 ounces of water in the quart jar. There are 16 ounces remaining.
You’ve got the big one, and you’ve got the little one. All that is in the big one does not fit into the little one, you have a remainder.
In verse 19 of our scripture for today we read this, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” If we turn to the next chapter, Paul repeats himself to make sure you get the point. In Colossians 2:9 he writes, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” It isn’t like God is a quart jar that we are trying to dump into a pint-sized Jesus. The fullness of God dwelled in Jesus. Jesus is God, with no remainder.
We didn’t just dump the good stuff out of the quart jar of God into the pint jar of Jesus. We didn’t transfer the love, the grace, and the mercy of God into Jesus, and leave the angry, vengeful God in the remaining portion of the big jar. Jesus is the fullness of God! If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father.
This is important because the way we tell the story matters. I’m going to share with you one of the popular approaches that people use to describe the Gospel, and I hope to show you why it comes up short.
Human beings are sinners. We have been given the Word of God, passed on from generation to generation, from family to family, yet we choose to rebel and go our own way. This sin keeps us away from God and the plan that He has for our lives. The sin keeps us from entering into God’s presence here on earth and will keep us from spending eternity with God in heaven.
Why are we excluded from heaven? Because God hates sin. Because God is a perfect, we as imperfect sinners cannot be in God’s presence in heaven. God commands us to follow him, so when we sin God gets angry at us. God is filled with wrath against us sinners, or as has been said, we are sinners in the hands of an angry God. Our perfect God is angry at sin and cannot be in the presence of sin. And someone must pay for that sin.
Our condemnation to eternal separation from God in hell is our payment for sin. That’s the bad news.
But fear not, there is good news, it is the Good News! Though there is an angry God who is determined to make us pay for our sins, we have a substitute, a stand in, if you will. Jesus Christ, the sinless son of God, stands in our place. Jesus was crucified, beaten, stripped naked, and shamed on the cross in our place. In doing so, Jesus took the wrath of the Father upon himself, and those who call upon his name will be saved.
That is how we often hear the Gospel described, and there are things about that approach that I commend. I believe that sin is real and that it separates us from God. I believe in punishment for our iniquities and I believe that we all need the grace of the savior. But my concern is the image of God that we just created in that example. And maybe not everyone would put it the way that I just did, but that is often how I hear the Gospel described. The angry God must pour out His wrath upon someone, anyone, and Jesus offers to stand in our place. Angry God; loving, merciful Jesus. I think we can do better.
If Jesus is the clearest representation of God that we have, if Jesus truly is God with no remainder, then we cannot pit an angry God against a loving Jesus. God does not have a split personality, nor is this some good cop/bad cop scenario you might find in a Lethal Weapon movie. What you see in Jesus is what you get with God! There is never a time when God stopped being loving. There is never a time when God stopped being just. There is never a time when God stopped being righteous.
When we pit an angry God against a loving Jesus, we are denying the traditional Trinitarian view of God that says that the Father and Son are one. So essentially, when we try to explain the problem of sin, we create other problems. We create other problems that I would argue are worse than the ones we were trying to solve in the first place!
This misunderstanding of God makes God out to be a worse person than me, and that’s a problem! Imagine I was a mean, revengeful kind of person. Now imagine I’m walking down the street late at night and someone jumps me and steals my wallet. You bet that the mean and revengeful version of me wants someone to pay! I want my money back. So I demand that my money gets paid back, and I demand it from the next person I meet on the street. I can’t be consoled until I get my money. I don’t care who pays me back the $20 I just lost, but someone must pay. I’ll take it from you if I have to, as long as I get my money back.
Pitting an angry God against a loving Jesus makes just as much sense, probably even less, because we expect that God is going to be at least as just as we are.
Now don’t get me wrong. I believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. But rather than fabricating some unbiblical account of an angry God who just needs to pour out his wrath on someone, on anyone, even his own son, what if we approach the problem of sin from a biblical and Trinitarian perspective that says that Jesus is the fullness of God with no remainder?
It sounds a lot different, and I would say a lot better, to say that rather than an angry God off in heaven demanding payment for our sin who is willing to punish anyone as long as someone is punished to flip this and remind each other that Jesus is the fullness of God. Rather than punishing someone, anyone for our offenses, what if we considered that Jesus, as a part of our triune God, was willing put aside his life in heaven and voluntarily come to this earth to redeem us from our sins? God didn’t pour out his wrath on his son because he just needed someone to pay for the sins of humanity. No, God, in the form of Jesus, voluntarily entered this world to take away our sins.
Each week we have been addressing the concerns that are present in our method for seeing God. Today I wanted to just show you a blank slide and say that there are no problems with finding God in Jesus because Jesus is the fullness of God. If you want to see what God is like, look at Jesus. Boom.
Unfortunately, there are concerns with approach. For instance, the image that I presented a few minutes ago about how we often divide God up into an angry God and a loving Jesus seems to come from the Bible. There are times when the God we find in the Bible does not look like the God revealed in Jesus. There are times when the God of the Old Testament tells the Israelites to wipe out entire nations, killing every man, woman, child, and even the animals. This is what is known as “herem warfare” in the Hebrew Bible. Total destruction. In Deuteronomy 7 and Joshua 6 we find instances where God says to wipe out entire nations, leaving no living person or creature. That sounds like an angry God, maybe even one who demands blood for forgiveness, regardless of whose blood it is! So how do we see that God in a man who said to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, and do good unto those who would do you harm? Even though the New Testament tells us again and again that Jesus is the fullness of God with no remainder, the Jesus I read about doesn’t always look like the image of God we are given in the Hebrew Bible.
That one is so big that we will save an entire sermon for it and come back to that one concern next Sunday as we conclude what has now become a four-part sermon series. Four parts are always better and seem to make things a little more harmonious anyway!
God is revealed in many different ways. We find God in creation, just as a compass points us in the right direction. We find God through our map, the Bible, which draw from the experiences of those who have come before us. And we most clearly find God in Jesus, who is our destination, our goal. Next week we will try to understand who to deal with the differences we find between the God revealed in the Old Testament in the God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
John 1:1; 14, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Hebrews 1:1-3a, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”
John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”